Last month the German newspaper the “Stuttgarter Zeitung” published an article on slum tourism. In an interview with human geographer Malte Steinbrink, the history of slum tourism is explained as well as a short debate on the motifs and ethics of tourism to such areas. In the end Steinbrink mentions that whilst tourism benefits certain individuals, by itself it is certainly not enough to fight poverty.
You can read the original article in German here.
Thinking back of the last post on slumtourism regarding “donor tourism”, I was reminded of an animated discussion I had with a tour guide in the townships in South Africa. The guide argued that local schools that hosted tourists were being “ripped off” by tour operators. He felt that the chairs, tables and/or (note)books that tour operators hand out are too little for the benefits that they gain from visiting these schools. Particularly as these tour operators have been relatively vocal about their charitable efforts.
Whether or not the tour guide was correct, this is obviously a case of a commercial enterprise engaging in some form of charity. Indeed such actions are quite common among slum tourism tour operators, most of which stress their investments in the local community.
At the other end of the spectrum are tours and other activities that are set up and/or run by charitable organisations. These use tourism to gain additional additional income for their work. A number of volunteer tourism organisations also are set up as NGOs and are primarily reliant on tourists to support the organisation. In a way the aforementioned “donor tourism” may also be seen as belonging in this category. Even though the tours themselves may not be used to gain additional income for the charity here, they are used to ensure donors get a more lasting connection with the charity thus continuing to give (financial) support.
Whilst I have not done a close analysis of such organisations as they are involved in slum tourism, I have noticed how these forms of tourism appear to be more and more merging. Commercial tour operators are getting increasingly involved in charitable practices as part of their corporate social responsibility programmes, while NGOs appear to be more and more take a commercial approach. In a way the two may now at times even be competing with each other. This is an interesting development, albeit one that may make it more difficult for tourists to discern between different forms of slum tourism.
In the past month I read a blog post on slum tourism that may provide an interesting read. The author gives a concise summary on slum tourism including some pros and cons and in the end decides that slum tourism is probably here to stay and that it is up to the individual to go or not.
Two things in particular stood out in this post. Firstly the author mentions that some may take offence in including a US city in a discussion of slum tourism, in this case New Orleans. This is an insightful comment as it alludes to the fact that slum tourism in general continues to be associated with developing countries. However during the “Destination Slum!” conference last December, US ghetto tourism was discussed as a form of slum tourism and remarkably similar issues were found in tourism to these areas. To see slum tourism as part of the developing world, only really shows one part of what it entails.
The second thing that stood out to me was a small comment regarding what to do when visiting slum areas. An (often given) advice is to try not to be obnoxious in flaunting ones relative wealth. In general this would seem a sane and good thing to do. However, it can be taken a step too far. During my own research in the townships around Cape Town, I heard complaints from tour guides about tourists that stripped themselves of all jewellery and things of value due to fears of safety. This meant they often had too little money to buy crafts or give tips to visitor attractions and tour guides, thus limiting financial support for local people involved. Also dressing down to this extent emphasised the “otherness” of the townships and the people living there. Several inhabitants felt that if tourists want to visit them, they should visit them as they are and that the dressing down was demeaning (“they come from abroad, we know they have money… Do they think we would immediately attack them or so?”). I suppose both the extreme flaunting of wealth as well as extreme dressing down may both be seen as disrespectful, albeit in very different ways.
The most visible form of slum tourism is likely to be tours to impoverished areas by foreign holidaymakers. They stand out and often fit the stereotypical picture people would have of slum tourists. However, what about aid workers or researchers? These may not always be seen as typical tourists as they are not on holiday for pleasure only. However, from personal experience I can say that doing research in slums can be an exciting and pleasurable experience. Interestingly, while people working in slum tourism said they viewed me as different from the average tourist, this did not stop some from calling me a tourist. Colleagues with whom I talked about these issues mentioned they had similar experiences. I would thus say that the vast majority of slum tourism researchers are indeed slum tourists as well.
To a certain extent, a similar perspective is taken by Kent Annan with regards to aid workers. He notes they too may be viewed as “poverty tourists”. However, he appears to view the label “poverty tourist” as negative. In his post he discusses his own ethical difficulties with doing aid work in poverty stricken areas and how he tries to steer clear of doing “poverty tourism”. He does this by aiming to treat people with dignity and asking himself the hard questions, trying to have the visits make a difference at how he lives at home and letting them be part of a long-term commitment to finding effective ways to help.
What I find interesting about his discussion is that it displays similarities between aid workers and holidaymakers that visit the slums. The arguments that are given to prevent aid work from becoming seen as “poverty tourism” are remarkably similar to the potential benefits of poverty and slum tourism. Of course not all holidaymakers will let their visits have such profound impacts on their lives, but for some this may be the case.
While certainly not an academic study, to me such anecdotal evidence further strengthens my idea that the vast majority of aid workers and researchers are indeed slum tourists as well. This may be contentious and one can disagree on this matter. However, after reading about the experiences of Kent Annan, it would seem that visits to impoverished areas certainly can impact and change lives of tourists and aid workers in similar ways.
At the 2010 London Debates series, a set of international discussion workshops aiming to bring together early career researchers and invited senior researchers. Bianca Freire-Medieros presented a paper on the relation between the colonial legacy and favela tours. Her discussion is interesting and contains several linkages to the ethical debate on slum tourism as well. Among other things she concludes:
“Within culture, the margins, albeit still peripheral”, writes Stuart Hall, “have never been a space more productive than they are today” (quoted in Schwertner 2007). Such productive space is not only an effect of the opening in the dominating spaces, but also “results from cultural policies on the different, from struggles around the different, from the production of new identities and from the appearance of new subjects in the political and cultural arena” (ibid.). Hall argues that, although the opening of new spaces for the different is extremely positive, it might be equally perverse if the “characters of margin” are seen as no more than “a flavor of the exotic”. It seems to me that such is precisely the dilemma of the touristic favela, not because it is a touristic attraction, but for it is still perceived as belonging on the margins of Brazilian culture.
To understand how she reached this conclusion you can download the full paper (pdf 330 kb) from the London Debates Website. If you disagree with her or would like to discuss her findings, feel free to comment, if you have written a similar paper yourself and would like to publish it on slumtourism.net, please let us know!
http://www.montrealcampus.ca/la-misere-des-riches: Recently an article on Slum tourism appeared in French on the website of Montrealcampus, mainly regarding the ethical aspects of the subject.
Left at the Crossroads: Ogling the poor: Slum tourism was also the subject of a column by Marc Saint-Upéry, discussing the ethics of slum tourism and linking favela tourism to tourism in Victorian times.
Towship tourism: A mixed blessing: Not so much an article on township tourism, but a photographical slideshow that depicts the concept of township toursin South Africa fairly well.